Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Legacy of Leopoldo Rother

The National University's Fine Arts building is characteristic of the simple, block-style arhictecture employed by Rother.

German-Colombian architect Leopoldo Rother would turn 120 this August, and likely be disappointed at the sad state of many of his Colombian works. 

Born in 1894 in Breslau, Germany, now part of Poland, Rother designed governmental and athletic buildings in Germany. But the ascent of Hitler forced Rother and his family to flee because of their Jewish heritage. 

In 1936, Rother immigrated to Colombia, where he quickly obtained work designing public buildings and teaching at the National University. He designed the Edificio Nacional in Barranquilla and the Eduardo Santos Stadium in Santa Marta.

But Rother's best-known work is likely the Universidad Nacional's Bogotá campus. Rother designed the 121-hectare campus as an oval, with ring roads circling its periphery. The campus is so large that it is formally known as the University City. (The 'Nacho' was founded in 1867, but its buildings were scattered throughout Bogotá. The Ciudad Universitaria became Colombia's first university campus.) The buildings are block-shaped and unadorned, a style which he apparently adopted from a 1932 modern arquitecture exposition in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Today, the buildings can seem a bit boring and monotonous. And the government has allowed many to decay, a situation which has triggerred student protests. 

In his later years, Rother taught architecture at the Universidad Nacional and did designs for Colombia's public works department. In 1977, he was awarded the Cruz de Boyaca and died the following year in Bogotá.

On the National Univesity's campus, the architecture department's museum is named after Rother. The museum recently held an exhibition about his life and works.
A 1930s map of the National University's campus, showing its oval design. 
The National University's engineering building, designed by Rother and now under repair. 
A crumbling building on the National University campus.
The National University's Bogotá campus's newest building, which breaks the campus's block pattern, and has won recognition for its design. 
The Edificio Nacional in Barranquilla, designed by Rother. (Image: Wikipedia)

Eduardo Santos Stadium, in Santa Marta, designed by Leopoldo Rother (Image: Hoy Diario de Magdalena)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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